Catholic Priest Condemns Violent Attacks Against the Family

The weekend after Christmas I traveled back home to visit family. Out of respect for my parents and grandparents, I attended Sunday mass with them on Sunday. It was the Feast of the Holy Family. The usual priest at this particular church is a pretty good guy, but he had a recent fall and was in the hospital. In his place was a different man who rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. When he stepped in front of the congregation to give his homily, I knew I was going to disagree. For a while, I thought I was wrong. Everything he said I was agreeing with. Then, he ended his speech with this list of “violent attacks against the family” in our society.

Chapter TK - A Catholic priest condemned these as attacks on family life, but are they really? Why should we feel ashamed if our family isn't perfect?

I had expected a handful of those items to be on the list, but the first one he picked on was single parent households. He said those three words so ominously, as if such families were as terrible as homosexual families. Now, I don’t believe either kind of family is wrong or evil,  but I didn’t expect a Christian religion to condemn a single parents raising children in the same way they condemn people who are attracted to the same gender.

If not for the presence of my family, I would have walked out in that moment. Why should we feel guilty for being something other than perfect? Even more, I disagree that the above list constitutes a ‘violent attack against the family.’

As I said in the beginning, I was surprised to find I agreed with everything this priest said before. Invoking the words of Pope Francis and the former Pope and current Saint John Paul II, he described the family as a sanctuary for life. Family is something we are born into. It is something that protects us and shelters us from a world that can be all too cruel. When the rest of the world tosses us aside and we have no one left to turn to, we have family.

Well, that is the ideal at least.

In all these things, I agree. My family is large and far from perfect. If I felt like it, I could list all the problems and imperfections of each person. Those imperfections, though, don’t matter. What matters is that family sticks together. Sometimes family members stray. They may get involved with the wrong crowd and refuse to participate in family gatherings. But, and again this is the ideal, they should know they can always lean on that family if ever they choose to return.

Family is sacred even when it isn’t perfect.

For the next few weeks, I will be addressing each of these points with a rebuttal. No one can argue that every single thing on that list is okay in the sense that people welcome the event. There are certainly some things on that list no one wants to so much as consider. Still, we live in an imperfect world. We can try hard to achieve and maintain a whole, loving family, unmarred by most of those things. It doesn’t always work out that way, though, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make our family any less valuable.

On the topic of the ideal family, who says a male and female married under law and God is perfect? Who says that is the only way to be? There are many stories where families just like that end up being a sanctuary for violence and abuse.

Guess what? Things like domestic violence, child abuse and marital rape were not listed among this priest’s ‘violent attacks against the family.’ Even lesser problems, such as poor communication and fighting in front of children were left unlisted.

And what of religion’s failures? Some might claim, given recent scandals in the Catholic Church, that priests can violently attack a family. Some might claim the church is responsible for the harassment that leads too many LGBT youths to kill themselves, further supporting the argument that religion is a threat to family.

There are so many problems in this world that generate orphaned children and widowed spouses. Are you seriously saying a homosexual family who takes in an orphaned child, filling their life with love and support, is violently attacking family? Are you seriously claiming a single parent struggling to raise their children after losing their partner for any reason should feel ashamed their family doesn’t have two parents?

I’ll give this priest the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think he counted single parent households where the absent spouse had died or had been abusive in that list. I don’t think he considered an orphaned child to be better off alone than with a loving family. I don’t think he considered issues of rape, abuse and neglect within Christian, heterosexual families when he made that list. That said, lack of intention to cause offense does not make his comments any less offensive.

What do you think of this priest’s list of ‘violent attacks against family?’ Do you think Pope Francis and Saint John Paul II would agree with him? Who do you know whose family fits one of the points on this list? Do you think they should feel ashamed at the state their family is in?

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34 thoughts on “Catholic Priest Condemns Violent Attacks Against the Family”

  1. A rigid clinging to old values in the face of contemporary life and a more complex understanding of values is why so often religious leaders and churches are out of step with society. That is probably why their congregations are shrinking too. It is also probably more Christian to preach compassion, empathy, tolerance and support than judgement and condemnation. I am an atheist but even in secular life I find it very diificult to accept that some people still espouse such harsh, prejudiced views.

    1. I can connect with what I consider true values of Christianity, of all religions really – empathy, tolerance and support. All religion is trying to better us, but there’s a difference between shaming someone and supporting someone.

      Pure intentions might mean something to God, but they mean nothing to the people all but chased away from religions that look down on them.

      1. I completely agree with you about those values being at the true core of world faiths – which is why I am not an anti-religion athesist – but some members of those faith groups espouse views that completely undermine those core values.

  2. What extended family doesn’t fit into every one of those? I know mine does and i have very religious aunts, uncles and cousins on one side. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” There is only one who should judge us and she is upstairs. That is about as religious as i get.

    1. Exactly! Listening to that dreadful homily, I couldn’t help but think there were children who were very proud of the hard work their single parent put in to their lives. There was probably someone who divorced and remarried because the first marriage had issues and they didn’t want to be alone after it dissolved. Life isn’t perfect and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

  3. As a recovering catholic, what bothers me most is the insinuation that there is some choice. Many single parent households have a lot to do with domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse and other things. Scientific studies have already proven that asexuality is genetic. I could go on an on, but I won’t.

    Bottom line is that people, in general, are decent and doing their best to make it in the word.

    1. A recovering Catholic. I guess you could put me in that category, too, although I have yet to tell my parents I no longer consider myself Catholic, so I’m pretty far away from recovery.

      There was a lot of bigotry in his statement. His words weren’t trying to help anyone. The only thing they did is support hate for those people and shame anyone in the congregation whose family can be described with one of those points. I know people aren’t perfect, but damn, do we deserve some respect for trying to make the best out of the life given to us?

  4. It’s pretty clear to me that Pope Francis would not agree with how this priest ended his sermon. The Pope may have made a statement about the sanctity of family, but he also also made it abundantly clear that it is time for the Catholic faithful, including its priests, to be more accepting and welcoming of those who don’t fit the rigid mold Catholic leaders have been pushing for so long. It’s somewhat disappointing that this priest used the Pope’s words in a sermon that doesn’t fit the Pope’s own teachings.

    1. Even as someone who doesn’t believe in any religion, I am very happy with Pope Francis. He seems to be a much more accepting man than the church has seen in a long time. He seems to be preaching love, not hate, which is fantastic. I’ve seen people twisting his words quite often, though, and it makes me sad.

      1. Right there with you. I was raised Catholic but have been an atheist for decades. Pope Francis is the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church in my 50 years.

        1. I know you’re responding to Noise Pollution, but I just wanted to pop in here and say I agree one more time. Pope Francis seems to be doing positive things for the church.

      2. I agree. I was worried at first because he has said some very anti-LGBT things in the past. But we can all change for the better. While I don’t believe he is any less conservative than previous Popes, I appreciate that he is reaching out with love and compassion. He sees that people won’t come to the faith and stay in the faith if they feel attacked

    2. That’s what I thought, too. I couldn’t help but remember his statement about LGBT couples having value. While he wasn’t condoning their lifestyle, he admitted the commitment said couples have to each other, their families and children is admirable and valuable. But so many rigidly conservative Catholics try to explain away his words.

  5. Oh god. That list is one of the main reasons I had such a falling out with religion. I am an atheist now. Not agnostic, not something in between, but an atheist.

    Maybe I should be thankful; for lists like that. I mean, seeing things like that is what caused me to start questioning things. I knew for a fact that those sorts of statements weren’t right, so I went searching for statements that were. Eventually, I found what I believe now to be true.

    I spent a period of my life in a backwater part of the country, surrounded by people with views identical to the views of that priest. Well, the harmful ones,anyway. We moved there after my mother had just gotten a divorce from her cheating husband.

    We were ostracized. Our house was vandalized, no one at the church we attended would speak with us, and I was bullied mercilessly in school. It became okay to treat my family like trash, just because my mother had gotten a divorce. It was horrible, and left permanent scars on my mind.

    I don’t even believe that Jesus was a savior, I do however think that he was a man with good ideals. From my experience reading the New Testament, I don’t think Jesus would have condoned what that priest said. Jesus was a man who stood up for an adulteress when others wanted to stone her. He was a man whose friends were lowly fishermen, and one who healed the castoff lepers. He was a man who forgave everyone, without hesitation.

    I’ve never been able to see how those ideals managed to turn into what most major, organized forms of Christianity are today. Jesus preached love, not hate. And I feel like that priest’s statements are hateful in their ignorance. Even if he didn’t mean those words to be harmful or mean to anyone, his ignorance is still hurtful, and unacceptable. Forgivable, maybe, but words like that are not words I can stand behind.

    My mother loves me. My father loves me. My mother and my father don’t love each other. If they had stayed together, my life would be significantly worse. I would have grown up completely differently, and I can guarantee that I would have turned out worse. Them staying together wasn’t the morally right choice in that instance, no matter what some ignorant priest who got to grow up in a happy, normal home says.

    1. I think that’s why these religions are becoming more extreme. They basically condemn anyone who dosen’t live a perfect life (according to their standards), thereby causing them to leave. My father is one of those who thinks if you just abide by God (i.e. the rules of the human institution meant to honor God) that life will work out for you. Nothing bad will happen because God. Everything bad that does happen is your fault because of Sin.

      If you play video games, this is basically the story of Final Fantasy X. I mean, the monster you fight is actually called Sin.

      Anyway, this is why I say religion can be a false God. The Pope is not God. Catholicism is not God. Nothing but God is God. Now, I am not atheist (but have no problem with people who are. Seems just as reasonable), so the way I see it the only way we can get closer to the divine is in how we get closer to each other. We must invest in the personal relationship. If you always hang out with a person when you’re both around 20+ other friends, you’re never going to really know them. You have to have some personal conversations, some things just between you and them. You have to have a personal understanding of each other. Without that, all you really know about a person is what other people say about them.

      Too bad religion dosen’t support that kind of relationship with the divine, probably because they know everyone will not reach the same conclusions about how to live life.

    2. Yeah. Things have to get really bad for the government to step in and do something. That’s across the board. I have an old friend whose brother is high functioning autistic. He’s a smart guy and could have, with the right support and education, been a productive, independent citizen. To do so would have required he received the specialized attention and education he needed. But the family was too poor and the government wouldn’t step in unless he put himself or other in mortal danger.

      So this person, who could have been a productive member of society, is now living off social security and living in his parents basement.

      Now, I know this is different than dead children, but it’s the same in that too often no one helps a person out until death is knocking… and by then it’s sometimes too late. That’s just not okay.

  6. I think the current pope wouldn’t be all too happy with this priest. Somewhere I read that he offered a woman to baptise her child – born outside any kind of marriage – himself if no priest was willing to. One can believe something to be morally wrong and still accept that his is a imperfect world, and thus offer help instead of hurting hurt people even more.
    Plus, “violent” attacks against the family? The only things I’d put this label on would be ones systematically enforced from the outside: 1.) obligatory non-family daycare from a really early age on, 2.) keeping people from getting married or having children because of their political views or whatever 3.) forbidding marriage itself in general, 4.) obligatory pre-natal screening and subsequent (quasi) obligatory abortion of “unfit” life
    There might be a few more but these are the cases I can think of right now.

    1. My thoughts exactly. I can think of a lot of legitimate attacks against the family. These are not it. One could even argue forbidding the above list actually contributes to the destruction of families.

      A person in a place of power as he is in needs to be understanding, not hateful. As an example, I happen to have an uncle who is a Catholic priest. He has his opinions, but is a pretty great guy. I was told a pregnant woman once came to his door. She was and considering abortion. He sat and talked with her about her life, supporting her and trying to persuade her not to abort.

      In the end, she went through with the abortion. He knew this because she came to his door weeks later in tears. She regretted her decision and asked if God would ever forgive her. He opened his door to her again, assured her no one is beyond forgiveness and cried with her.

      THAT is how you deal with the problems of the world. Preach against it without hate and, when those things you wish to prevent happen anyway, embrace those people with love and support.

  7. Even if the pope would not agree, what can he do against it? The catholic church is still rampaging against change and there are enough people supporting this behavior while praying for a new pope.

    1. What the Pope says is law in the Catholic church. He acts as God on earth to Catholics. Who he forgives is forgiven and who he condemns is condemned. But then, he can’t move too fast because he’ll meet a lot of resistance.

      Religions change slowly.

      1. I’ve seen a documentary about a catholic couple that helped people in the community with birth control and getting an abortion. When asked if the pope would be ok with their behavior they answered: “I don’t care about the pope’s opinion in that matter, my heart has to be ok with it, a rule all christians should live by.”
        So i see the pope rather as a company logo or spokesperson instead of god’s emmisarry.

        Sorry about my comment. I considered becoming a priest for a long time, but got disillusioned with the organisation over time.

        1. Part of my falling out with the Catholic Church is that I also wanted to be a priest once. As a child, it made no sense why I couldnt…. and that didn’t change as I greq up.

          You hear a few good stories likeep you mention. There is a group of Catholic nuns who who speaking in support of birth control and Obamacare. Their main concern was taking care of the poor and hungry. They saw that birth control, while they were against it’s use, could help reduce poverty. That being their goal, they felt they needed to support it.

          I forget what happened… because the Vatican sent someone to investigate them. I might look them up and see if there’s any news.

  8. It always irritates me when people rail against single-parent families. As if a wedding ring magically makes everything better. Come to think of it, a wedding ring might magically make everything better – you could sell the ring and get the family something nice.

    There’s never any discussion of WHY a single-parent family might exist. Maybe there was abuse? Maybe there was infidelity? Maybe the husband just walked away and left the wife to handle everything herself? No. ALL single parent families are bad and it’s bad for the kids. Never mind that it would have been WORSE for the kids if the family had stayed intact.

    Also, it’s usually coming from the same people who are pro-life. Now, I’m as pro-life as they come, but I can tell you that if you want to shame people for welcoming new, unexpected, unplanned life *cough* single parent families *cough* all you are going to do is encourage that abortion rate to go up.

    1. Amen to that. You’ll find when I touch on abortion that I am pro-choice, but I have no problem with the concept of pro-life. That is, if you want to prevent abortions (and don’t we all? No one wants to get an abortion. No one expects to make that decision) then you need to do some serious investment in how to make that happen. Abortions happened when they were illegal and they will keep happening if they are made illegal again. BUT if you offered support and encouragement to people who were afraid, offered to be a family for the woman whose family abandoned her once they found out she was with child, offered free childcare and meals for the hard working mother of two who can barely afford to feed two kids let alone three. These things would make people feel welcome and less fearful.

      Moreover, it would stop harmful laws that put lives at risk. No matter what happens, there will always be medical conditions that pop up that will require abortion.

      The point is, there are just so many more options other than hate. Hate causes people to get defensive and resist. It accomplishes nothing. There is a better way.

  9. I was reading an article that talked about children in abusive households and their links to death. Try searching for “abused kids die as officials fail to protect them” if you are interested. I was looking at the numbers and Butte, Montana is cited to have at least 786 children listed deaths of abuse and neglect as defined in the U.S. within a six-year span. 786 child deaths?! That’s insane! The officials who are supposed to be protecting these children are more focused on keeping the family unit together… I’m sorry, that’s BS.
    Source is The Associated Press.

  10. My opinion may not matter-I’m not a Catholic. I am a Christ Follower though. The items on the list may offend because of the way they are being presented, but they just represent the effects of sin-bent humans living in a fallen world. Stuff happens. We’re left picking up the pieces of our brokenness. If we were all perfect, there’d be no need for mercy and grace. Certainly we would make better choices, and I suppose we might avoid being on this list if we were. But there are more sins than just sexual sins, and all sin is an attack against God’s best for humanity. If we sin, we can’t say “the Devil made me do it (although it’s perhaps partly true)- The blame for our sin-choices does fall on us. We did it. Perhaps rightfully, the priest points to negative consequences of our sinful nature. The Holy Spirit’s job is to convict us of our sin. But the church, and its membership is supposed to be there to help us pick up those pieces, turn away from our sin choices, and follow Christ. If it doesn’t help, maybe it isn’t what Jesus wants the church to be. The priest may be speaking what he believes is the truth, but if the priest (or the Christ-follower) speaks the truth without love, it’s not going to be effective. Hatred never changes anyone’s mind.

    1. As a person who has encountered many hateful Christians, I appreciate you recognize the hateful way this priest presented his argument was uncalled for.

      I don’t like the idea that we should be ashamed for not being perfect. Our imperfections make us unique and interesting. They give us goals to strive towards, a reason to live. So I resist the idea (that came from my Catholic upbringing) that we should all be ashamed and sorrowful simply for being human.

      I like how you say if his words don’t work then maybe that’s not what Jesus wants to church to be. It’s hard, though. The human laws of religion sometimes supersede those of God. The only way a preacher can be open to Jesus or God saying “this is not what I want you to be” is if they can come to terms with the idea what they thought Jesus wanted is not correct. It’s a hard thing to do.

  11. Great post. I’m not Catholic, but my father was violent towards my mother until she could no longer take it. To say that single parent households are wrong given that she could have stayed married and continued to get beat would have been better is an outrage. The church is responsible for more than just preaching the word, but offering support and understanding to families in trouble. Heck, I’m divorcing and I didn’t plan it, but my son will be fine because I consider his mere birth a blessing from God and I will just have to do it alone. God’s got us.

    1. I agree. I’ll talk about this more tomorrow, but the long story short is that there is nothing wrong or sinful about single parent households.

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